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Focusing in on Milo Eifler

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the latest addition to the “Focus in” series. Today we’re taking a look at former Illinois linebacker Milo Eifler. We’ve already touched on a number of players and you can read those by clicking the names below. As always I hope you enjoy and if there is a prospect you’d really like covered, then drop their name in the comments below.

Tristen Hoge. Kenny Yeboah. Jason Pinnock. Hamsah Nasirildeen. Jamien Sherwood. Chris Naggar. Isaiah Dunn

I’ve been pretty excited about writing this focus piece, mainly because I love watching Mile Eifler play football. If you like hard-hitting physical football, you’ll absolutely love his highlight package. He hits like a mack truck, if you were to put a brick wall in front of him, I’d bet on the wall losing.

The Jets signed the former Illinois linebacker to a UDFA contract. There’s no guarantee that he’ll stick with the team considering the Jets drafted two safeties who will transition to linebacker under Robert Saleh in Hamsah Nasrilideen and Jamien Sherwood. Eifler has a chance to stick, especially because his physical nature matches up well on special teams.

Born in Berkeley California, Eifler attended Bishop O’Dowd High in Oakland. He played on both sides of the ball as a running back and linebacker. In his senior year he recorded 40 tackles, 9 for a loss, 1 INT and 1 FF. Outside of football he also won league titles in shot-put in both 2014 and 2015, showcasing the strength he would become known for. He was heavily recruited, being listed as the 6th best linebacker in the nation by Scout. His composite with 247 saw him as a 4* prospect and the 20th best player in California.

Eifler received 15 offers in total and chose Washington over the likes of Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and Utah. His high school coach was the superbly named Napolean Kaufman who was a Washington Huskies legend, a player who led the Huskies in all-time rushing yards for 23 years. One of his most famous performances came in the “Whammy in Miami” game that saw the Huskies end Miami’s 58 game home winning streak, I’m sure Eifler made his own decision, but I imagine Napolean had some favourable things to say about his former college.

In interviews at the time, it seemed clear that a big factor in Eifler choosing Washington was the former success of Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson, Eifler’s game was very similar and many saw him having the same success that Thompson did, Shaq was taken in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers, and is still with the team now. Washington fans were excited about the arrival of Milo who was seen as a key recruit in the 2016 cycle, he was seen as a player who could do a bit of everything. Come up and play the run, rush the passer from the edge and drop into coverage.

Unfortunately, his time at Washington wasn’t nearly as successful as he’d imagined. After taking a redshirt season in 2016, he appeared in 13 games for the Huskies in 2017, however it was rarely as a defender and he finished the season with just 6 tackles. At the end of spring practice in 2018, Eifler found himself sitting 3rd on the depth chart for the strongside linebacker position behind fellow sophomore Amandre Williams and Myles Rice.

The decision to join Illinois made sense for three reasons. Former NFL coach Lovie Smith was now in charge of the Fighting Illini, Smith spent a huge portion of his career playing and coaching linebackers and after spending time with Tampa Bay, St Louis and Chicago, he knows what it takes to get to that level. Two, the defensive coordinator at Illinois in 2018 was Hardy Nickerson, who had coached at Eifler’s high school between 2010 and 2013 so there was some familiarity there, and three, Illinois offered him greater opportunity at playing time.

“I’ve got ties back there,” Eifler said of Washington. “It’s not like I’m going to hate on them. We went different paths. That’s a great program. I still care for my teammates.” - Eifler on moving on from Washington

After sitting out 2018 due to NCAA eligibility rules, Eifler was raring to go, wanting to make up for lost time with his remaining college eligibility. Lovie Smith took over the defense from Nickerson, who retired after the 2018 season due to ill health and Smith saw a load of potential in the former 4* recruit

“He’s athletic, got good size, agility. It’s been a while since he’s played but we think he’ll be a physical player; he can play out in space. He’s got enough bulk and he’s tough enough to play inside. We think he’s going to get into the mix and he’s going to be one of the guys this year we have high hopes for.” - Lovie Smith

If you’ve seen pictures of Eifler, you’ll know that he’s physically very imposing, and the coaching staff at Illinois were as impressed as opponents were daunted:

“He is a freak,” former Illinois strength and conditioning coach Joey Boese told Illini Inquirer earlier this month. “I’ve been doing this for a while now, and he is genetically very, very gifted. I’ve enjoyed working with him. He came here, he had a shoulder (injury) and we took care of it right away. So right now, he’s really just getting back into doing everything full speed. For the first two and a half weeks of working out, he has really impressed. This guy is, like I said, very gifted genetically and he works. He likes football. He’s a football junkie, and I look for him to have a huge season. If it’s a guy that people don’t really know about or forgot about, I think he’s a guy that will make a big-time impact this fall.”

Eifler earned the starting job in 2019 and instantly started to repay the faith shown in him by Lovie Smith, He was fast and he was physical, he flashed coverage ability and showed an ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. As the season went on, Eifler got better and better. When all was said and done he ended the 2019 season with 63 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and 1 pass defense, starting 12 of the 13 games. He played at weakside linebacker before switching to strongside and his game translates across the board.

2020 was a strange season for everyone and the turbulent run-up to the Big10 season didn’t do anyone any favors. Eifler voiced his concerns about playing during a pandemic, understandably so when you consider where we were just over a year ago. Then the season was canceled, before being reinstated with a shortened slate. Not ideal preparation for anyone looking to impress NFL scouts and make the jump to the next level.

Heading into the season, there was a lot of expectation placed on Eifler and fellow linebacker Jake Hansen to lead the Illinois defenses. After all those two players had played a huge part in Illinois winning their first bowl game in 5 years in 2019. Eifler commented just before the season on his aspirations:

“Of course you know everyone wants to get drafted and I just feel like with this opportunity with everything going on in the country, there will be a lot of eyes on the U of I football team this year,” Eifler said. “Every practice I feel like there’s always some juice and energy because guys missed playing sports they missed the game they loved so much. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we won’t have this same team come 2021, who knows. But we do know we have the opportunity and the opportunity is right now.”

Milo would miss the first half of the game against Wisconsin after picking up a very questionable targeting call in the bowl game in 2019. However, he followed up his 2019 season with a solid 2020, recording 27 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 1 sack in 5 starts. His highlight reel hits are impressive, but it may have been a lack of consistency that saw Milo hit the UDFA line instead of being drafted.

The floor for Eifler is a solid special teams player who can create some momentum-shifting moments with his big-hitting ability. He’s a developmental prospect who has the range and athleticism to play in the NFL, he likely just needs to work on slowing things down slightly and play more disciplined football at times. He has that aggression that football fans love and I’m sure Saleh will enjoy. It’s important to remember that Eifler really has only played 1 and a half years of college football due to his time in Washington and having to sit out a year.

Robert Saleh has both worked with and coached some outstanding linebackers in his time. So Eifler is in good hands, having moved from Lovie Smith to Saleh in the pros. Speaking to fellow SB Nation site just before the draft Music City Miracles, Eifler expressed why he loves playing linebacker:

You get to experience a little bit of everything. We have to play in both the run game and the passing game. We can blitz and try to get after the quarterback as well. You’re the jack of all trades.

You’re not focused on covering the same person the entire game. We’re like the quarterback of the defense. Everything runs through us. I like having that level of trust from the coaching staff. We have to play fast and smart. I need to understand the assignment of every player on my defense. It’s a lot of fun.

The good thing for all these players is that the Jets need an influx of talent all over the field and they have a coach who’s going to play the best players available. Eifler may not make the team, but he’s going to be entertaining to watch if he does.